The Food Almanac: March 6, 2013

It's National Frozen Food Day!
Staff Writer
Frozen Peas

Wikimedia Commons/ Jina Lee

Frozen Peas

 

In The Food Almanac, Tom Fitzmorris of the online newsletter The New Orleans Menu notes food facts and sayings.

Restaurant Anniversaries
Brigtsen's opened today in 1986. Frank and Marna Brigtsen worked together at K-Paul's, after Paul Prudhomme had hired the young chef first at Commander's Palace, then in his own restaurant. Then they went out on their own. The early Brigtsen's showed many similarities to K-Paul's: the menu that changed every day, the policy of sending food to the table as soon as it came off the stove (instead of waiting until for all the other dishes for the table were ready), the doctrine of serving fresh local product with a local flavor. 

Brigtsen's became a hard reservation to get immediately, and it's still that way--although weekdays only require normal notice. It's my favorite kind of restaurant: just reading the menu makes you hungry, because it perfectly blends the familiar with the innovative. The building is an old cottage, only slightly reconfigured from its residential days (although at least two restaurants used the place before Brigtsen's), and making no pretenses to rich atmosphere. But that keeps the prices down, and the restaurant is as essential to the local dining scene as any other in town.

Food Calendar
This is National Frozen Food Day. That's because on this day in 1930, the first frozen foods were put on sale in food stores. It bore the brand of the man credited with inventing the modern method of freezing food: Clarence Birdseye, whose work created the entire frozen-food industry. I'd say we paid a price in flavor there, but freezing did bring the price of food down while vastly improving the availability of certain edibles that would have been available only in season previously, or not at all. But you'll never eat frozen food at Brigtsen's, nor should any restaurant with pretensions to serving the best use freezers except for the likes of ice cream.

Of course, few of us can maintain perfect gourmet restaurant standards at home, and even the best chefs have a lot of stuff in their home freezers. That's okay if you religiously follow the essential rule of frozen food:

Freeze food as rapidly as possible, and thaw it as slowly as possible.

The food industry uses a technique called IQF--individually quick frozen--to take the temperature of, say, fish or shrimp or chicken down to well below zero in just a few minutes. That prevents water from being frozen out of the food's cells and then forming big ice crystals. When that happens, the textural integrity of the food is compromised, creating that mushy effect. It also leaves a lot of water inside the food--also a hallmark of badly frozen product. Thawing the food slowly prevents damage as well, since quick thawing causes the border between the frozen and unfrozen parts to stretch the cellular structure and, again, create an unpleasant softness.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
I considered the fate of my surplus steaks.
Pulled out some foil in a thick wide sheet
Fast-conducting metal is all it takes
Quickly and sharply to reduce the heat.
Someday my children will gladly find
Dinners aplenty, enough to deplete
Ravenous hungers, or the nibbling kind.
And behind all that, this old, old meat.

Gourmet Gazetteer
West Olive is in southwest Michigan on the Pigeon River, which flows into Lake Michigan just three miles west of the town. It's an unincorporated town, but the Olive Township that surrounds it is home to about 4700 people. The area includes a mix of farmland and suburbs. Apples are a big crop around here. US 31 passed through the center of West Olive, and can be driven all the way down to the Gulf Coast. Next to it is the main line of the former Chesapeake and Ohio railroad, heading north to Ludington, where it used to operate steamships across Lake Michigan to Chicago and Milwaukee. They carried passengers, automobiles, and railroad cars. The passenger service is still operating, on the SS Badger. A restaurant called The Barn is in West Olive. I wonder if you can get a martini there.

Edible Dictionary
salumi, Italian, n.--A generic Italian word that translates into English roughly as "deli meats" or "cold cuts." Those expressions don't quite capture the goodness of Italian cured meats, however. A better parallel is with the French charcuterie. Salumi includes many world-class delicacies--prosciutto, guanciale, and lardo, to name three. The word's first syllable is a reference to the salt used almost universally in curing meats. Most salumi is pork-based, although not all of it. One other matter of possible confusion: all salami is salumi, but not all salumi is salami.

Annals Of Junk Food
Oreo, the world's most popular cookie, was introduced by Nabisco a hundred one years ago today. The first batch was baked in Manhattan and sold in Hoboken. It was as it is today: two dark chocolate cookies with a fake buttercream filling holding them together. The original ornate design on the cookie was very similar to today's. The only major change over the years was to add the Nabisco colophon to the center. A few decades ago, Esquire magazine tried to find out who created the design and why. They didn't find out, but they did learn one amazing, little-discussed fact about Oreo: it is a ripoff of the long-running but now extinct Hydrox, made by Sunshine Biscuits.

Annals Of Wine Marketing
Today in 2007, Ernest Gallo died, at 97. He was the sales half of the Gallo family wine team, with his brother Julio (who also lived to a ripe old age) being the production guy. "Can you sell as much wine as I can make?" Julio asked his brother when they set out on their winery venture in the 1930s. "Can you make as much wine as I can sell?" Ernest shot back. They both could, and did.

Big Eaters Born Today 
Tom Arnold (1959), Ed McMahon (1923), Lou Costello (1906), Shaquille O'Neal (1972).

Food Namesakes 
Cookie Rojas, all-star baseball player, was born today in 1939. . . Guy Kibbee, actor, was born today in 1882. . . Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born today in 1806. . . Today is the feast day of St. Basil of Bologna, the bishop of that city in the Fourth Century.

Words To Eat By
“I've known what it is to be hungry, but I always went right to a restaurant.”--Ring Lardner, American journalist and writer, who was born today in 1885.

"Is it progress if a cannibal uses a fork?"--Stanislaw Lec, Polish writer, born today in 1906.

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